If you aren't a fan of the lackluster flavor found in many commercially sold tomatoes, you're not alone and science is trying to solve the problem. Researchers from the USDA, Agricultural Research Service and the University of Florida are experimenting with various methods during the harvesting and packing process to help tomatoes retain more of their garden-fresh flavor by the time they reach the supermarket.
Traditionally, tomatoes are picked while green, then treated with ethylene gas to artificially kick-start the ripening process. After that, the fruits are stored and shipped at cool temperatures—chilly temperatures are a known enemy of fresh tomato flavor. Sadly for shoppers’ taste buds, the process is a necessary evil that preserves the product for the long haul.
But Dr. Jinhe Bai and his team from Florida developed a surprisingly simple process of heating the green tomatoes in water for just five minutes before the standard chill session. According to their findings, this method left more of the tomatoes' flavor and aroma compounds intact. Oh, and they tasted better, too. They didn't stop there—they also did research on incubating unripe tomatoes in wintergreen oil and another procedure letting the fruit ripen longer on the vine before treating with 1-mehtylcyclopropene, a gas that removes the need for the cooling process altogether. Needless to say, these scientists are serious about tasty tomatoes.
Bai's research will be presented at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). If you can't be in attendance, you can read all about the processes in more detail at the ACS website. The produce industry hasn't adopted any of these potential advancements yet; in the meantime, we'll keep our eyes on a brighter, bolder tomato-flavored future.